"I think that, as a country, we are very late, we were also late developing 4G, and we are late with 5G. We are delaying so the state could protect the state-owned operator,” Serbia Broadband (SBB) CEO Milija Zekovic said in an interview with Nova ekonomija (New Economy).
Nova ekonomija: The SBB does not hide that it also has aspirations towards the mobile services market. What phase is this project in?
“Had you asked me two years ago when a license for a mobile provider would be issued, I would have said in a few months’ time. I think that there won’t be a tender this year for 5G either, and if there is one, licenses will not be awarded. We did an analysis that shows that prices in mobile telephony in Serbia are higher than those even in some European Union countries, as opposed to the fixed telecommunications services market where prices in Serbia are lower than those in the region. This means that this market needs another mobile telephony provider. With our people and experience in the United Group where we already commercially provide the 5G service in Bulgaria, Slovenia and Croatia, it would be good for the Serbian market for us to get a license both for mobile telephony and for 5G,” Zekovic told Nova ekonomija.
Nova ekonomija: What is the reason for the months-long delay of the auction for allocating frequencies for the future Serbian 5G network? We are not the only country that is behind, Belgium recently had the auction.
„I think that, as a country, we are very late, we were also late developing 4G, and we are late with 5G. We are delaying so the state could protect the state-owned operator. By delaying, the prices of 5G implementation could be lower, and since the state operator is spending a great deal of money on things that are not in the domain of telephony, it does not have the money to develop 5G and they are waiting to come up with the money. The only advantage of the delay is that, in a few years’ time, there will be more things that can be operated through the Internet. But basically there are more negative consequences of this delay in issuing mobile telephony and 5G licenses. Citizens pay higher prices for mobile telephony because there is no greater competition in the market. As a state we can make products that use 5G, now, since we do not have 5G we have to import everything. Why wouldn’t a charger be manufactured in Serbia? Had we been the first to introduce 5G we could have made something that 5G technology would use,” said the SBB CEO.
Nova ekonomija: Investors have been complaining for a while now over the atmosphere in the public regarding 5G and the legal status of base stations. How far have negotiations with the Serbian Government come?
„In order for 5G to function, there need to be many more base stations in every city. Construction permits are needed and then the state needs to adopt a decision that a base station is of public interest and so shorten the procedure for its construction. If we also get a license for mobile telephony, it would be good for us to have guarantees that we will not have problems in obtaining permits. So it doesn’t happen like now, that we have a fixed network license, but cannot get into many cities for years. In Subotica we only have access to 1.000 households, we have no chance of getting into other parts of the city and expanding our network. We have been trying to get permits in Smederevo for over two years. As members of AmCham Serbia, we have had a number of meetings at which we showed that conditions in the telecommunications market are not the same for all participants,” Zekovic added.
Nova ekonomija: What does the Prime Minister say to your objections?
„We get answers through the media. We never got a reply to a letter we officially sent to Ana Brnabic. Silence of the administration is the usual reaction, in Subotica we also filed a suit over the administration’s silence,” says Milija Zekovic.